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The Dark Days of the University Of Lagos By Modiu Olaguro

March 17, 2015

The political scientist and one-time president of Princeton University who pioneered the Preceptorial model of teaching in the US worked tirelessly to write reforms that were designed to convert the school from “where there are youngsters doing tasks to a place where there are men thinking”. What better way to make men from youngsters than making them lead themselves.


Nothing suggests the inversion of the Nigerian state than the nonsense our institutions of higher learning have become; where a vice chancellor of a university doubles as the SUG President and the Dean of students’ affairs becomes the speaker of the House - making laws for the students who although might be a master in their fields of study but are found wanting in the art and science of political conduct and business.

For ten academic years, a gloom was cast on the University of Lagos. Matriculation after matriculation, convocation after convocation, the university existed as if all was well with only a handful realizing that Unilag had been reduced to nothing but a graduate making factory - one that became not a bastion of freedom, but that whose job was to churn strictly out engineers without the requisite skills in societal engineering; industrial chemists with little knowledge about the chemistry of compromise among disparate groups; educationists with no iota of skill in the politics needed to build a modern society; and more disturbing, political scientists and lawyers who were denied the right to participate in a central democracy.

The political scientist and one-time president of Princeton University who pioneered the Preceptorial model of teaching in the US worked tirelessly to write reforms that were designed to convert the school from “where there are youngsters doing tasks to a place where there are men thinking”. What better way to make men from youngsters than making them lead themselves. Can the University of Lagos boast of graduating men that thinks? Does Unilag even graduate men at all? How does the university, in the last decade expect her products to compete internationally when they are been denied the opportunity of competing among themselves? Alas, there is more to life than scouting for grades.

For half a score years, graduates of the university leave as novices in the field of politics. Skillful Akokites graduate not to go back to their communities to contribute to the deepening of democracy but to join the bandwagon of political neophytes in complaining about the state of the nation; waiting for God to come to their rescue. Graduate babies that have been encouraged to believe that when a government is seen to have been infiltrated by baleful elements as was the case marshaled for the proscription of the ULSU, the solution was KILL such government. Engraving in their hearts the mindset that: politics is dirty, I can’t do it. I do not want SUG because it would delay my stay in school. Can’t you see how SUG causes the Obafemi Awolowo University to be shut on a daily basis? I’m okay without the ULSU.
One wonders how the proscription of ULSU would either avoid the burning of the vice-chancellors’ lodge or the annihilation of secret societies in schools. How rational our professors could be when they punish a noble institution such as a student government for ten years all in the name of an alleged infiltration by cultists! A short-sighted decision that failed to foresee that the very essence of a university stands defeated irrespective of the little gains accrued to such. It is human nature to be remembered for something, either good or bad. Clearly, the vice chancellors of Unilag since the tenure of Oye Ibidapo-Obe, save the current - Rahaman Bello -  have cast their names in stone as intellectuals that stifled democracy, crushed a student movement and planted and nourished a decision that reduced a university into a caricature of itself.

More disturbing is the level of indifference displayed by touchstones of freedom, free speech and democracy who are alumnus of the university. As I did in an earlier essay titled “Unilag students’ union: Nine years on the sidelines” published by Sahara Reporters, I would still challenge Tunde Bakare, Omoyele Sowore, Kayode Fayemi on why they kept mum on this. Or what else is indifference if not complicity? What role did Professor Yemi Osinbajo play as a teacher of law in the university? Did Wole Soyinka, a champion of democracy shook hands with the managers of Unilag all the while knowing fully well that they were making a mockery of students’ rights?  What good is an activist that ignores the injustice in a university community to fight political battles for the nation?

Giving the commencement address at the American University on June 10, 1963, John Fitzgerald Kennedy quoted John Masefield, a poet laureate of the United Kingdom and author of the Midnight Folk who wrote that a university is “a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see”. Can the University of Lagos situate itself in this? Was the proscription of the ULSU not a display of ignorance by individuals who were supposed to make others see truths? Would ULSU be proscribed again if a similar happening of 2005 re-surfaces?

For a decade, lecturers in the University of Lagos became so powerful that they migrated from slapping undergraduates to boxing them at the slightest of provocations. Even security men and traders were not left out all because they perceive students as being vulnerable, with no one to champion their cause.

If the 11th floor abhors the notion that the lifting of the ban on the students’ union would fetch them praises, they had better wake up to reality. What is expected of Unilag is to tender an unreserved apology to the knowledge community and Nigerians for taking injustice this far on one side, and vow never to stage a coup d’etat on the students’ union on the other.

Our universities need to understand that cultism, just like other social vices is better solved not by using the Unilag approach of throwing the baby away with the bath water but by a scientific process of correcting the imbalance and gross indiscipline in the society and building institutions where laws are obeyed. Potential cultists are found among kids with little or no moral instinct and from broken homes where such tendency is almost formed before admission. It would be fallacious, absurd and anti-intellectual to put the blame on a students’ government.

If only the harmful effects of graduating from a university without participating in a serious electoral contest could be quantified, every graduate of Unilag between 2008 and 2014 ought to be made to come back and witness the beauty and rigor of students’ politics – one that was the cynosure of activism in the days of NUNS and a force to reckon with not only in the agitation for qualitative education but for fighting dictatorship in the country.

Every man sent out from a university should be a man of his nation as well as a man of his time; wrote Woodrow Wilson. When would our universities step up from the production of half sophisticated boys to the making of men of their nation and their time?

Until such path is toed, the University of Lagos, just like her counterparts nationwide would remain as glorified nomadic schools where everything but ideas flows.

Modiu just completed his studies at the University of Lagos.

He wrote from Badagry, Lagos.
Email: [email protected]